I got the phone call on a Tuesday about my instructional coaching interview.
I felt my stomach knot almost instantly. I knew there was a chance I would get the job, but when I answered the call, I knew it was mine. As I shakily spoke to my soon-to-be principal, a groundswell of emotions and unanswered questions ran through my mind.
How was I going to leave my school, which I loved? Would I miss the classroom? Would I like the change?
I had an idea of what being an instructional coach entailed, but until you are in it, you cannot fathom what it means. I know I didn’t. In my new capacity, I act as a teacher-mentor for educators in grades K-7. I can step in as a co-teacher, model lessons, go to planning meetings, walk through classrooms and work with students. I also help out with administrative meetings, English for Speakers of Other Languages’ (ESOL) compliance, tutoring, events, fundraising and even glamorous things like carpool duty.
Though the role of instructional coach can look different depending on the school, I’ve zeroed in on a few tips that are crucial for anyone looking to make the move from the classroom to coaching.
How to Be a Successful Instructional Coach
1. Be Flexible with Your Coaching Responsibilities
In your mind, you probably have a perfect picture of what your day-to-day will look like. Keep that tucked away for later, because you will quickly learn that you must be a jack of all trades. You must be willing to jump in and help wherever necessary. For me, that’s been planning field trips, covering a class in a pinch, writing lesson plans, running meetings, taking lots of notes and engaging in endless listening. Will it be glamorous? Maybe not. Will you learn a ton? Yes!
2. Make Connections with the Teachers
To gain trust and build real bonds, you have to get to know the teachers you’ll be working with. I distributed surveys at the beginning of the year, asking teachers to identify their strengths and areas in which they needed help.
By doing this, I got to know the staff while getting a snapshot of what they could learn from each other. Is there a teacher at your school who has perfected the math workshop model? Go check it out and suggest they host a staff training. When you know your teachers, you can help create the connections that allow a positive coaching experience to take place.
3. Don’t Take Things from Teachers Personally
Whether you are new to your school or are starting the coaching role at your current school, there will be challenges. Transitioning from a classroom teacher role to an administrative position is a big change for you and all the staff at your school, so keep in mind that there will be an adjustment period.
Always remember that you don’t know the type of coaching interactions teachers have had in the past. If a teacher is standoffish or unwilling to work with you, try not to take it personally. It likely has nothing to do with you. When teachers have not received feedback in the past, you coming into their classrooms can be viewed as you judging or spying on them. Ease into walkthroughs, and always highlight the positives you see while still remaining honest. If you receive negative backlash from a teacher, meet with them face-to-face to discuss it and show them that you are on their team.
There is always a learning curve with any new leadership position. You may no longer have your own class and students, but you have the great opportunity to effect change on a higher level. Be an advocate for teachers, and never forget what it’s like to be in the classroom. (I hear giving teachers bathroom breaks on occasion really helps break the ice, too!)
American College of Education offers many programs designed to prepare you for a leadership role in your school or district. Explore our M.Ed. in Educational Leadership and M.Ed. in Teacher Leadership degrees.